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Billy Weir

When Football Manager turned real life in the Irish League's transfer window of all windows

Billy Weir


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New start: Ruaidhri Donnelly has moved across town to Glentoran

New start: Ruaidhri Donnelly has moved across town to Glentoran

New start: Ruaidhri Donnelly has moved across town to Glentoran

I think we know each other well enough by now for me to share something with you - I love a bit of Football Manager.

Yes, this dalliance with the Dorkside was pretty much a constant companion of mine since it first arrived alongside a Spectrum ZX (not the one with the spongy keys) back in the Eighties.

Like myself, it was a slow developer. Over the coming years, they tried to break away from being a bit nerdy but, let's face facts, we were spending hours basically typing in our bedrooms.

From the Spectrum we moved on to, in my case, the Megadrive, then PlayStation and, latterly, computer and it was a much more advanced and wondrous thing as the years progressed. Again, very much like myself.

However, I was to part company with the franchise once domestic bliss came upon me, the option of coming home from work and nipping upstairs, saying "I won't be long, Arbroath are on the verge of promotion" not cutting a huge amount of ice.

Also, the last edition I had - which may have been Championship Manager - had completely lost the run of itself.

As was my wont, as the game became more advanced the Irish League made an appearance and naturally I headed off to the Warden Street area of the Dork Web to take the helm at Ballymena United.

Thoughts of players from far-flung and exotic places coming to ply their trade in this part of the world were about as likely as me kissing a girl back in the day, but these are changing times

I am not here to boast, but among my achievements was a Champions League Final defeat by AC Milan in 2053 - so keep the faith Sky Blue fans. Things might be a struggle now but get the electric open top bus booked, we're set for a bright future.

However, unbelievable as this may be, the game had developed, in my opinion, a slightly unrealistic edge. I still remember the moment my life changed for ever when the following popped up on the screen - 'Frank de Boer has joined Newington on a free transfer.'

When Nigerian international Tijani Babangidi joined Barn United, I remember pressing the eject button, placing the disc back in the box and I think I proposed very soon afterwards.

The thoughts of Champions League and Irish League in close proximity hadn't really troubled me much lately until, to much sniggering amongst the unbelievers, Larne owner Kenny Bruce said his dream was to bring European football to Inver Park and hear the Champions League music.

Thoughts of players from far-flung and exotic places coming to ply their trade in this part of the world were about as likely as me kissing a girl back in the day, but these are changing times.

Glentoran is a multi-cultural smorgasbord these days; a Dutchman, an Iranian, a sprinkling of Croatians and, thanks to the transfer window of all transfer windows, boys from the hugely exotic Waringstown.

Normally in January there are a few moves here and there, but while things were pretty boring across the water, Sky Sports News' Jim White should have come over here because all hell broke loose.

When the Glens tabled bids for Cliftonville's Joe Gormley and Adam Lecky of Ballymena United, a friend - we'll not name him as he has a family and they need not know that he too was/is a dork - texted me to say ' I see someone is playing Football Manager in the Irish League again.'

Both moves were rebuffed but, undeterred, Mick McDermott and his team, who had already brought in Andrew Mitchell, stunned everyone by luring Ruaidhri Donnelly from Cliftonville. I haven't been so shocked since that De Boer move.

The Donnelly one is bit of a risk. On his day, the former Swansea City man can be unplayable but, in recent times for the Reds, there just weren't enough of those days - however fresh pastures may change all that.

It wasn't all one-way traffic, though. Scotsman John Herron moved closer to home with a switch to Larne and Curtis Allen turned back the clock with a return to one of his old stomping grounds, Coleraine.

Aside from the Glens, the Bannsiders' acquisitions during the window were pretty eye-catching and, like the Glens, prompted by finding themselves in - with all due respect to both - an unlikely title challenge.

At the start of the season, no one predicted just how quickly the Glentoran revolution would take hold and a few new bodies to shake things up in January could be the key to them going the distance.

Coleraine were always playing a bit of catch-up with Oran Kearney's return to the club. They always looked a little light but have been very fortunate with injuries until recently when they have struggled for goals.

Eoin Bradley has picked up a few niggles and James McLaughlin is going through one of those runs that haunt strikers, while it was a lot to ask of Emmett McGuckin and Alex Gawne to step up.

Now, though, they have added Allen to the mix along with Antrim GAA Star Matthew Fitzpatrick and the talent and youthful exuberance of Stewart Nixon from Carrick Rangers - a great piece of business which also allows Gawne to go and play more games on loan at Carrick.

And what of the champions? Well, their fans have been looking on rather enviously at all the comings and goings while there was little happening at Windsor Park

Back to Larne and, for them, it was relatively quiet. Andrew Mitchell and Dean Jarvis arrived from Linfield and Dundalk respectively, while Joe Tully made the short move from Ballyclare Comrades.

They are in a stick or twist situation at the moment, probably just too far behind to really challenge for the title, but with one eye on the Irish Cup and another on next season, so it was proceed with relative caution.

Ballymena, also with nothing to play for but the Irish Cup, were delighted that they finally swished away the annoying bluebottle that was Glentoran's pursuit of Lecky and also managed to boost their striking options by signing Joe McCready from Institute.

Talking of them, the doors at the Brandywell have just about stopped spinning; Sean Connor going for broke, getting rid of five players and bringing in eight, but to try and get them moulded into a team to climb off the bottom of the table in such a short time is like Barn United signing a Nigerian international.

Warrenpoint, their nearest challengers for the drop, have also been busy and Barry Gray has done some shrewd business, including bringing in Adam Carroll on loan from Linfield.

And what of the champions? Well, their fans have been looking on rather enviously at all the comings and goings while there was little happening at Windsor Park.

Ethan Boyle and Kyle McClean joined, while Hearts striker Ross Currie is here on loan but there was much chest-beating and wailing online from Blues fans that David Healy hadn't done enough, just as they finally got all their matches caught up and moved top of the table again. It's a funny old game.

They already have a great squad, much like Crusaders who also bought frugally; Cameron Dummigan coming in on loan from Dundalk and looking a cracking acquisition, but their big news was players going the other way, Matthew Snoddy off to Glenavon, where Colin Coates has signed up for a longer stay.

After 18 years at Seaview, Crues fans will probably feel like Ajax when De Boer left for Newington, but it gives Gary Hamilton that bit of class and nous he wanted, while he has also recruited wisely again from south of the border.

As mentioned earlier, Gawne has gone to Carrick. They look safe enough this time around but Niall Currie knows he has to hammer down his striking options for next season.

Dungannon's Kris Lindsay was busy, Guillaume Keke and Shane McGinty giving him more options up front, while Caolan McAleer from Finn Harps is a good buy.

And talking of that, it is goodbye to the transfer window for another year. Who picked up a bargain or bought a pup remains to be seen.

And remember managers, I have managed at the top level in Europe, so one slip and I am in there.

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